West firm first in UK to trial £5,000 robotic vest
IN the traditionally ‘macho’ world of building, few would risk the potential leg-pulling of asking for assistance with heavy loads.
But now help is at hand in the form of a £5,000 robotic vest that helps take the strain from builders’ shoulders.
A Bristol construction company has become the first in Britain to use it.
Willmott Dixon, which is building the new apartments at Finzels Reach, has bought the £5,000 EksoVest to help workers who spend long hours doing jobs overhead such as fitting lighting or plastering ceilings.
The robotic vest is optimised to support the weight of the worker’s arms so that any overhead work puts less of a strain on the worker’s shoulders and arms. The vest provides 5-15lbs of lift assistance per arm when activated.
The idea, explains Willmott Dixon design manager Chris Townsend, is that workers carrying out repetitive tasks feel “less fatigued” at the end of the day.
He said: “As an industry it’s important for us to introduce new technology to improve processes as the construction sector is not very good at doing that. EksoVests are predicted to be one of the key technologies to improve construction in the next 10 years.
“Rightly or wrongly this is a very macho-oriented industry and we need to change the mindset and show workers that it’s not because they can’t do it, we know they can, but that it will help them do a job for longer.”
Construction worker Mark on the Finzels Reach site has been using the vest, and admits he was sceptical at first but has found it actually makes a “real difference”.
Mark said: “It really comes into its own when we are doing a lot of highlevel work such as pulling cables.
“When you are working above your head for a long time it does hurt your shoulders and it is just something you get used to after doing for years. I was a little sceptical to begin with but actually it is simple to wear, it’s not heavy and it takes all the strain out.”
The EksoVest was developed in California by tech company Ekso Bionics, which first sold its product into the medical and military sectors.
The firm branched out into construction in 2018, going into partnership with car maker Ford in the US.
Ford have now taken the vest into manufacturing plants across the States, with employees working underneath cars using the vest to assist them.
Willmott Dixon bought the vest in October 2018 – and it is one of only two in the whole of the UK (the other is a demo vest).
Chris says Willmott Dixon would now like to encourage its supply chain to start investing in the vests for its own workers.
He added: “It’s about trying to change the mindset of the industry and demonstrate the benefits of this tech to our subcontractors.
“The industry has to make some serious changes to modernise otherwise it’s going to go backwards, and tech and robotics will form a part of that.
“There is always a fear that robots are taking over, but this is human driven. It’s about enhancing jobs that exist, not replacing them. Hopefully, in time, we will start to change the way people perceive the industry and start seeing more people taking up careers in construction.”
A Willmott Dixon site worker demonstrates the EksoVest in action